Kyenjojo — MILES deep inside Kyenjojo District is a small community that leads a totally different kind of life from their neighbours and other Ugandans.
This community is at Kyaka II Refugee Settlement Camp with a population over 16,000 residents. The refugees have made use of every inch of the 81-square miles of the camp land to an extent that the camp authorities are worried of space challenges.
Fleeing hardship in their home countries, these people left their means of livelihood and are strangers in a new country. However, they have not sat back to regret and idle away the time.
They have tilled the soil, the hills and valleys surrounding their camp and have huge maize, banana and cassava plantations. But the outstanding cultivators are the Bagegere tribe from DR Congo.
The Camp Commandant, Mr David Mugenyi, says the refugees' hard working trait has shocked many.
"It is so surprising that people around the camp who enjoy all the freedoms and have enough land come and buy food from the refugees," he said.
Besides tilling their land, Mr Mugenyi says the refugees also work as casual labourers in the gardens of the neighbouring communities.
It is from this work that many have been able to pay school fees, which is over Shs100,000 a term, for their children in the only secondary school and five primary schools in the camp.
The 16,000 refugees in the camp with 26 villages are mainly from DR Congo, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, Malawi, and Burundi. However, 3,000 Rwandans in the camp have been denied asylum and are yet to be repatriated home.
Kyaka II camp was established in 1983 to resettle thousands of Rwandans who had fled persecution in Rwanda. However, refugees from other countries have since then been resettled in the camp.
The representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Kyaka II, Mr Freeman Brent, says the commerce and trade in the camp has grown due to hard work and creativity of the refugees and their agricultural background.
"We are about to introduce an upland rice scheme in the camp because the refugees have proven to have the ability to handle such big projects which require hard work," he said. He said their success can also be credited to the agricultural extension services the refugees get from international agencies like the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ).
However, new arrivals in the camps still depend on food rations from the World Food Programme (WFP) before they can start supporting themselves. Other international relief agencies also supplement WFP to provide basic necessities.
"Each new refugee is given 15 Kg of posho per month and after sometime it is reduced to half. A refugee is able to harvest something, then we stop the rationing once one becomes self reliant and can provide their own food," Mr Brent says.
Authorities say the refugees can freely engage in agriculture because of Uganda's good refugee policy.
"Our refugee policy in Uganda is the best in the region. It mandates us to give refugees land to carry out agricultural practices," Mr Mugenyi said. "However, despite these incentives, some refugees still complain of poor treatment."
Mr Abdunur Mugenyi, the elected head of the refugees and a former administrator in Bunia town in Ituri District, complains that the refugees don't have access to clean water. "We have to fetch water from the same places where animals drink," he said. Mr Mugenyi says he fled his country after armed men attacked his home.
Unlike the displaced persons in the north who complain of lack most of the basic necessities, the refugees in Kyaka II lead a life better than many average Ugandans.